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Salt Lake City Weekly

Giving a voice to tricks of the trade
Actor teaches skills that made his voice-over career a success
By Glenda Galbraith - Close-Up Correspondent
Article Last Updated: 07/05/2007 12:34:50 PM MDT

Scott Shurian's name might not be familiar to you, but there's a chance his voice is. With a career that spans over four decades, the Holladay-area voice actor has 2,500 commercials and over 5,000 professional narrations to his credit since his early days in Ware, Mass., where he emptied ash trays and did "anything for half an hour at the microphone" as a small-town disc jockey.

Like many 19-year-olds, Shurian had no idea what career he wanted to pursue till "I heard my own voice through a speaker and a microphone and I knew: That's what I wanted to do," he recalls. In 1979, he abandoned a career as an anchor and reporter for ABC Radio and Golden West Broadcasters in Los Angeles to pursue voice-over acting work.

Now semiretired at 75, a youthful-looking Shurian is passing on tips of the trade gleaned in Los Angeles and New York on jobs for clients like Lexus, Walt Disney, American Express, Hilton Hotels and Bank of America. Participants in his five-week course learn how to bring personality to commercial and narrative copy, put together a demo compact disc to showcase their talent and market it to potential agents and clients.

It's a tough business with long odds on success, warns veteran talent agent Vicki Panek of the local Talent Management Group. With the advent of Integrated Services Digital Network technology, which allows the transmission of voice over telephone wires, those odds are getting longer all the time.

"It's almost a worldwide business now," Shurian says. "I have the ability to make commercials from the spare room of my home for clients all over the world."

But opportunities for voice work may be increasing. In addition to the traditional commercials, narrations and industrial, educational and marketing materials, there are also Internet projects, on-camera work, film looping (where voices are inserted into an existing film) and station imaging, or identification. The few who can support themselves at voice acting, says Panek, are "extremely versatile in many, many areas, have commercial good looks and [can] play many, many roles." Most are stay-at-home moms, waiters, or others with flexible day jobs who can work at short notice.

Panek declines to even estimate the number of wannabes in the Salt Lake City area. "Let's just say my Roladex is full," she laughs.

Recently, during their second night of class, Shurian's latest group of students practiced reading commercial copy. The class size is kept to seven students so Shurian can shower each with individual advice: "Slow down. Count to two before you start your next word. Gesture with your hands Ð your voice will go naturally with them. Breathe. Don't bump the mike - the sound engineer hates that."

Shurian reads the copy again, pounding important points hard. His goal: for Helen and Joe and Eliza to make the leap from announcers to voice actors, adopting what Shurian calls "voiceatility" - an elusive blend of personality, versatility and believability.

Workshop alum Stas (short for Stanislaus) Mintowt-Czyz of Sandy credits Shurian with helping him get voice-over work in the competitive but exhilarating industry.

"It was an absolute blast to do. My first experience was a wild ride," recalls Mintowt-Czyz, a successful 48-year-old software business owner and spin instructor.

The client, he adds, showed up early; a dozen other things happened. But "I was well prepared from class [because] Scott teaches the idiosyncrasies of the industry so you're not making a complete fool of yourself in front of the client."

But what's in store for members of Shurian's summer class of '07? Given their different levels of talent, commitment and interest in voice-over work, it's impossible to say.

Student and former disc jockey Joe Ferguson of Murray has experienced some early success in voice-related fields and wants to expand his experience. Known for a time to Omaha, Neb., blues audiences as KRCK's "Lonesome Joe," he routinely did media interviews with The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News about his growing Internet-radio business around 2001. Despite the early local acclaim he's achieved, Ferguson's goals include the relatively anonymous work of station imaging and auto attendant projects, such as phone trees.

"I don't think I'll ever be [another] Don LaFontaine," he says, referring to the famed movie-trailer master of Geico fame. "I just want to get an agent and see where Scott can take me."

By Glenda Galbraith

Salt Lake City Weekly
Utah Voice Actors Take Advantage of Changing Marketplace

"In a book on his coffee table, Scott Shurian keeps residual checks he never bothers to cash. It was more than 15 years ago that he contributed his performances to blockbuster films like Dances With Wolves and Ghost, yet the payments still trickle in." Read More...